by Symela Touchtidou, @stouchtidou

The Cultural Routes of Europe are an outstanding example of successfully endorsing sustainability into a tourism project. One of the most innovative initiatives by the Council of Europe, Cultural Routes were launched in 1987 to demonstrate how heritage and cultures of different and distant regions of Europe contribute to a shared cultural heritage.

Today, the Cultural Routes encourage European citizens to re-explore their heritage. While some routes highlight arts, architecture, history and the shared cultural heritage, others are dedicated to landscapes, handicrafts and religious heritage. They all aim to act as a channel for intercultural dialogue and promotion of a better understanding of European cultural identity.

The Routes of the Olive Tree, Monastery of Andromonastiro, one of the most impressive monuments of Messinia

With five new certifications in 2021, the programme currently counts 45 certified Cultural Routes, made up of a large network of over 3000 members crossing over 60 countries in Europe and beyond.

In 2010, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe established an Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes (EPA) to enable closer cooperation between states particularly interested in the development of the Cultural Routes. The EPA benefits today from cooperation among its 35 Member States –including Greece–, regional and local authorities, as well as international organizations, including the European Union, OECD, UNESCO and UNWTO.

Cultural Routes in Greece

Greece is one of the founding members of the EPA and presents an excellent example of a country with extraordinary cultural heritage, connected to a wider European cultural narrative through our programme. It should also be highlighted that Greece will host the Cultural Routes Annual Advisory Forum in Chania (Crete) in October 2022.

Epidaurus Theater part of the La Rotta dei Fenici

Greece is currently crossed by 12 cultural routes, including: the Phoenicians Route, European Mozart Ways, Routes of the Olive Tree, Iter Vitis Route, European Cemeteries Route, European Route of Historic Thermal Towns, Destination Napoleon, Impressionisms Routes, European Route of Industrial Heritage, Iron Curtain Trail and the newly certified Aeneas Route and Cyril and Methodius Route.

These routes also cross numerous European countries. Every year there is an increasing number of candidate networks submitting an application for certification to the EPA Governing Board. Currently, several networks under development cross the Greek territory and many of them have also established their legal headquarters in Greece. There is certainly a great potential for Greece to not only get involved in newly certified Routes but also participate in already certified ones through the accession of Greek stakeholders to existing networks.

This can for sure benefit Greek local communities, since one of the important features of the programme is the way it seeks to stimulate local economies through tourism and wider cultural development. Cultural Routes provide a recognizable platform for local creativity, artistic practice and economic development to blossom, whether through the provision of local accommodation and hospitality, the commercialisation of local products and souvenirs, or the production of local festivals and events, among other activities. Cultural routes also encourage widespread community participation in cultural activities, helping communities value their unique cultures and traditions. These are just some of the many reasons why Cultural Routes can become catalysts for sustainable development in Greece.

Stefano Dominioni

In an exclusive interview to the July/ August 2021 issue of Greek Business File, Stefano Dominioni, executive secretary of the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe and Director of the European Institute of Cultural Routes, talks about tourism standing at crossroads, the tools of innovation and the ways to reshape the tourism of tomorrow. He also presents the great potential for Greece. The  July/ August 2021 issue of Greek Business File is available here.